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Allergen survey

The survey's objectives were to:

  • determine the prevalence of undeclared allergens in a variety of packaged and unpackaged food mainly targeting foods with ‘free from’ statements, and
  • examine the different allergen labelling formats and language used by manufacturers.

Samples were purchased at random from supermarkets, greengrocers, cafes and other retail outlets between January 2016 and February 2017 in the greater Sydney area. Samples consisted of a variety of food categories and included ‘allergen-free’ samples, samples with ‘may contain’ statements and samples that made no reference to any allergens. Samples were photographed and all information was recorded in an excel spreadsheet including the ingredient list, allergen and warning statements.

Samples purchased unpackaged from retail establishments only included those with a free claim. Samples were transported under temperature control to DTS FACTA in Queensland for testing. Testing was conducted using ELISA systems.


520 samples were purchased and tested for a variety of allergens based on their labels and sample type. Sample numbers and results are in Table 2. Please note that an individual sample may have been tested for multiple allergens.

79 samples (15.4%) tested positive for allergens that were not listed in the ingredient list (but may have had a precautionary ‘may contain’ statement).

23 were unpackaged samples from retail outlets such as cafes and restaurants. These samples contained the declared ‘free from’ allergen at levels ranging from 7.1 ppm to greater than 8,000 ppm.

56 were packaged samples:

  • 12 had a ‘free claim’ for the detected allergen (ranging from 9.2 to 9,600 ppm)
  • 12 had no statement about the detected allergen (ranging from 17 to 9,100 ppm)
  • 23 made a precautionary ‘may contain’ or equivalent statement about the detected allergen (ranging
    from 3.9 to 9,100 ppm).

41 had levels of undeclared allergen over 100 ppm. 33 of these were dark chocolate or samples that used dark chocolate as an ingredient that contained undeclared dairy

Full results are available in the report below.

Allergen survey, January 2018

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